Exploring badge plugins – WP & Moodle comparisons

As promised, this post is just intended to give a quick, rough comparison of the WordPress badge plugins I’ve explored and Moodle openbadge functionality. It’s mostly for my own benefit and isn’t intended to be any kind of comprehensive review.

WordPress

If you don’t want to dump any cash, as far as I can tell there are three main plugins for issuing badges in WordPress: WPBadger, BadgeOS and Achievements for WordPress.

WPBadger

This is the ‘official’ Mozilla one that issues OpenBadges. In terms of functionality this plugin probably has the least – you create a badge and award it manually. It’s simple and lightweight but has no ability to automate issuing badges (although this plugin offers a couple of simple options). It does, however, issue Mozilla badges which integrate with the backpack, which is probably the strongest point in its favour. It’s an odd balance between the most widely acknowledged badges and the least functionality.

BadgeOS

This is a nice, more fully featured plugin that has automated issuing functionality. It has more of a gamification slant as it has options for quests and levels, and it has a fairly nice suite of add-ons available, although not all are free. It issues badges via Credly, which does talk to your Mozilla backpack but it’s another step of remove. It’s probably the most polished of the three.

Achievements for WordPress

This, to me, is the most fully featured and exciting plugin. It still takes a more gamification slant, with points and challenges functions, but it talks to other WP plugins to offer far more options for unlocking achievements. It talks to Buddypress, Buddypress Courseware (a free LMS plugin) and WordPress eCommerce (which happens to be the ecommerce platform Coffeecourses uses). The list of available actions that trigger automated issue is still a little simplistic for my liking, but it’s still a wider feature set than the other two plugins above offer. However (and this is a fairly significant caveat), the badges appear to be standalone rather than integrating with a service like OpenBadges or Credly. Which is an issue if you are working with another system that does support these services and you want your badges to be universal and portable.

Moodle

OpenBadges functionality is integrated in Moodle 2.5 (docs here). As we’re still running 2.3 and I haven’t got round to updating my own rogue Moodle yet, I haven’t had a chance to play yet but from what I can see the implementation is fairly robust and flexible. The badges module integrates with conditional release and activity completion, which means that you have a fairly wide range of options to issue badges. Issuing is automated and administered quite well. You’re also able to issue badges at both the course and site level, which means you can do macrocredentialling (is that even a word??) as well as microcredentialling. For my money, which is none given this whole post is about free and open-source stuff, Moodle is currently the best option for working with OpenBadges in education. Unfortunately it’s not the best option for the things I’ve got set up that I want to issue badges. But in general, Moodle’s badge implementation has a much stronger focus on credentialling rather than gamification/engagement.

 

 

Engagement layers vs microcredentialling

Further to my previous post, I’ve finally had some time to look more closely into openbadges integration. What I’m discovering is that from a WordPress point of view, badges are still largely thought of as an engagement layer – a somewhat superficial achievement set to motivate users to engage with your content. What gives this away is the fact that  the only automated award options across any of the plugins I’ve looked at (will try and do a comparison in another post given there’s not really anything around on that) is based on basic engagement actions like logging in or posting a comment (unless you’re running Buddypress Courseware – but I don’t, that’s naughty even for me :D). You aren’t able to automate awards triggered by any interaction deeper than that – for instance, posting a comment on a specific post. You still have the option for manual awarding of badges for whatever you like but if we want to tick the buzzword boxes like ‘scalable’ it’s not really a viable option. Now perhaps for the gamification set this is sufficient, for the purposes of trying to increase student engagement in a simple quantifiable sense (ie avoiding tumbleweeds), but if my goal is to use badges for microcredentialling professional development the available plugins (at least, the free ones) aren’t quite there yet.

Which leads me to the fact that I may have to eat my words, a little bit, because the implementation of openbadges in Moodle 2.5 is much more sophisticated in this regard, and I suspect this will be what draws me back to doing cool stuff in Moodle again. Because Moodle 2.x has a fairly good conditional release and activity completion set, the options for automated issuing of badges are much richer and more targeted. Badges in Moodle appear to be implemented specifically for microcredentialling, with engagement layers and gamification likely to be an afterthought that gets exploited, coming to a teaching and learning conference near you.

So why do I care about the difference? After all, aren’t I the person who gamified Moodle (sigh)? I have no interest in an arbitrary feature set that exists solely for the purposes of bribing people to participate with pretty coloured gifs. But – I have a real use for something that lets me track completion of a course or event and give some sort of recognition to people for that completion, given that we’re unable to offer “proper” credit points and we have a PD requirement for new staff. As @ghenrick points out, “if a resumé or CV is a bunch of claims, Open Badges are a bunch of evidence”. This is the real strength of openbadges, and it’s why you need a slightly richer feature set than just ‘log in and engage with my site in some way’. And this is where my appropriation rant falls down, because the non-edu world, being largely unconcerned with credentialling in general, just hasn’t quite got past the engagement layer with badges yet. I’m not quite sure where this leaves me given Coffeecourses is in WordPress and not really portable into Moodle, but I’ll stick a category on this train of thought and you can follow my progress.

WordPress-fu for the entry-level edupunk

The above is the title of a workshop proposal I’ve submitted for Ascilite this year. It occurred to me that I did quite a lot of workshoppy practice-sharing type work around what I was doing with games-based learning and Moodle stuffs but (largely for baby-related reasons) I haven’t done much at all with where my focus has been for the last while, which is building outside-the-box (I hate the phrase but in this case it’s more or less literal if you take ‘box’ to mean ‘institutional VLE’) spaces for doing cool stuff in WordPress. Which seems remiss of me given WordPress is free and dead easy to use and lets you do cool stuff but not many people have ever explored it from an admin/maker perspective or used the self-hosted version.

So assuming it’s accepted, the workshop will be a hopefully entertaining half-day exploration of running and using your own WordPress install to create spaces for learning/teaching/research/admin/whatever. The ‘entry-level edupunk’ thing is a reference to those who might be frustrated with the restraints of their LMS (etc) and would like to do something different but don’t know where to start and also don’t want to be too anarchic about the whole thing. The point here is that it’s not about being a complete cowboy and running a rogue server from under your desk, I’ll also be talking about how to make a case for institutionally-sanctioned projects, how to work well with IT etc.

Part of the workshop will also be along the lines of my previous post, looking at plugins etc that weren’t designed for an education market but that can be appropriated to do some nifty stuff. Plus some fun unstructured design time and free fiddling with ‘OH GOD I BROKE IT’ assistance. Ultimately I really just want to show people how easy it is to do neato stuff with an extraordinarily rudimentary grasp of web dev principles and php (because that’s all I’ve got), and that you can be a little bit cowboy without being very cowboy :).

Design by appropriation

The problem with systems and software that are designed for education is generally that they are designed for education. Education as a target market has some significant baggage when it comes to design – there’s always a tension between educational design and system design, and things generally end up as a compromise between the two that completely satisfies neither. The educators aren’t satisfied because their lack of knowledge of system design leads them to have somewhat unicorn-like ideals about what a system can and should do, and system designers aren’t satisfied because their lack of knowledge of educational design leads them to have somewhat unicorn-like ideals about what educators can cope with. Designing systems specifically for education also results in an invisible bias, where users’ concept of what that system can do is shaped by the system. LMSs are probably the guiltiest examples of this on all fronts.

To my mind, the strongest design is coming out of companies that have nothing to do with education and never intended for their product to be used in our sector, and we’re missing a trick if we’re not exploring how we can appropriate them. There are some very cool possibilities that come about if we borrow ‘outside’ systems and start repurposing them into education*.

You’ll likely have noticed lately that I’ve been doing a lot of work with WordPress (the self-hosted version), which is just a blogging platform. Designed to let people write stuff on the internet and that’s it. Conveniently it’s open-source so a lot of people have written plugins for it that make it into other things that still don’t have anything to do with education – e-commerce, creative portfolios, business websites etc etc. It’s also free and stupidly easy to use. But most significantly, what it is is a blank slate. It was never designed for education. Which means we are free to appropriate and interpret tools and functions as we like. As an example – most universities have a catalog of courses and units on offer, which prospective and current students ‘shop’ through to build their degree. These tend to be developed in-house as standard information repositories that hold not a lot more than unit codes, descriptions and outcomes. However – the world of online commerce is light years ahead of the game in terms of how you sell stuff to people online. People designing e-commerce platforms know customers want shopping carts, cross-sales info, reviews, package deals and to know what popular products are. Imagine a course catalogue that was more like shopping on Amazon – adding potential units to your cart, seeing other students’ reviews of the course, one-click adding of units commonly taken concurrently etc etc. Ten minutes spent installing WordPress and an e-commerce plugin and you’ll have exactly this structure ready to go. Coffeecourses are a rudimentary example of this, with the added bonus of all the course content also being hosted in the same WordPress site, using category tags as unit codes.

It’s not just WordPress. Bucketloads of beautifully designed non-edu-specific tools can be found on the interwebs. I should specify though that I’m talking about fundamental structural appropriation, I’m not just talking about setting up a Pinterest board for your class. Appropriation for design, for building things. I know it’s a long way off in terms of being supported on an enterprise level, but there’s still a lot we can do with niche and flagship projects. Next time you need to create something, before you reach for your standard edu tools, take a look outside the edusphere; there’s a web full of stuff just waiting to be cowboyed.

*The eagle-eyed among you will spot this as fairly textbook edupunk, but I’m coming at it from the ‘hey let’s do cool stuff’ point of view, not the ‘screw you and your restrictive enterprise systems, I’ll do it myself’ ethos. How spurious you take that distinction to be is entirely up to you :).

 

 

Adventures in credentialling: OpenBadges, Open Badges and un-gamification

I have to admit that I have avoided OpenBadges until now, mostly through rightly or wrongly correlating them with gamification. I am not big on -ification of any kind but take particular issue with the addition of superficial motivation layers over unchanged, non-game-like content and the awarding of badges just for the hell of it (or under the guise of ‘engagement’). Which means I have mostly discounted the existence of OpenBadges.

Until now. Most of you are aware that for the last while I’ve been dabbling in wholly online delivery of professional development via Coffeecourses (which I realised to my dismay the other day is probably an accidental MOOC of sorts). However one sticking point with it has been the ability to track completion and offer credentialling. The use of e-commerce software means registration can be easily tracked, but so far completion has been an honesty system of sorts, given that commenting on each activity is optional. However a couple of weeks ago I read this post by @marksmithers, who is perhaps one of the few people around who is more skeptical than I am about things, which made me rethink my stance on OpenBadges and badges in general. Effectively they are a simple method of scalable and sustainable (in that they can be automated) micro-credentialling, and don’t necessarily have to have anything to do with gamification at all.

So – I’ve started to play. I’m investigating WPBadger, which integrates with OpenBadges, and BadgeOS, which lets you create open badges (which are not Mozilla badges) that are shared via Credly. With any luck this will allow me to award automated credentials for completing coffeecourses. Ultimately it would be excellent if one could collect such badges, and badges from other professional development, and aggregate them towards a ‘proper’ credential like a GCHE – but I suspect that’s crazy talk. At any rate, watch this space. Or more accurately, this space.

I’m on a boat! Oh wait. No I’m not. [or, why PD is a wasted opportunity]

It has recently come to my attention that those of us who work in professional development, particularly in schools and universities cf industry, are missing a rather large boat. A huge, glaring boat.

Generally if you are an educator in a university or school, you have a fairly extensive list of restrictions you are working with whenever you attempt to do something new and/or innovative with your teaching practice. You have both institutional and governmental red tape to comply with, administrative processes to follow, institutional structures, set content and/or assessment etc etc. Change is difficult to effect. There are many rogues and cowboys out there doing cool stuff regardless, but generally, as an industry education is far from agile and conducive to innovative practice.

But – professional development (as an entity in education) is almost entirely unregulated. Almost none of these restrictions apply to us when we are designing training and PD programs. And yet this is an almost universally wasted opportunity. We fill our PD programs with face to face workshops that are generally only a computer click or two away from a lecture. Powerpoint presentations. Paper handouts. We’re presented with a situation which perhaps more than any other scenario in education facilitates truly innovative design, and we’re dropping the ball rather badly.

Now I am aware this is partially a market demand thing. Most people who are the consumers of professional development have the workshop model as their primary concept and this tends to be the expected and requested model. But – somebody has to start changing the status quo somewhere. We should be taking advantage of this opportunity to start a trickle of creative thinking, innovative practice and cool stuff, not biding our time with the same old. Coffeecourses was kind of a nod in this direction on my part, but we still have a long way to go.

Now excuse me while I go write a conference presentation on this. I’ll make sure you all get a printout of my slides.

The problem with educational design (+ the WDC)

Once upon a time, I was a teacher. Probably quite a few (most?) of you reading either were or are as well. And while teaching is a varied and movable feast of a profession, one thing can be taken more or less for granted, and that is that pretty much every day for at least part of it, you will be teaching. You’re a teacher, you do teaching, simple, no?

Nowadays I do something rather intangibly named ‘academic development’, and I’ve just been seconded into a gig on a SAF-funded project titled ‘educational design’ (all part of the same semantic quagmire). However, if we follow the same nomenclature logic as teaching, the profession should actually be called ‘A bunch of meetings, planning and administration, some testing, making Moodle quizzes for people and sometimes you might get to go to a conference’.

The problem with educational design is that we spend so little time actually designing education.

I am well aware that higher education throws up quite a lot more red tape than K12 education, but most of the time universities are in danger of project managing themselves into the ground. There’s an awful lot of talking about deliverables that sound like doing something, cf actually doing something, and very little abounds that really looks like innovation. So – as an antidote to this, I’ve just tossed up a Weekly Design Challenge project, in which for an hour or so each week we tackle a pedagogical design problem, in a sort of conceptual hackerspace.

Functionally it’s not dissimilar to the daily quest idea – a short repeated task that keeps your hand in and ups your skills and reputation. It also neatly solves the problem of being able to show something tangible when people ask ‘can we see an example of an innovative unit?’ (because when you tell people they have to innovate that’s invariably the first question they ask). It’s also not far removed from Google’s 20% time I suppose, although it’s depressing to think that we need to specifically allocate time to do the thing that’s in our job title.

Will it work? Who knows. But at least it’s doing something.